helping children cope with the loss of a pet

Lily Mouse: May 2008-September 2010

Tonight we had a mouse funeral. It was a simple and understated funeral. Her name was Lily. She was white with black spots. She was a funny mouse. Always the one trying to find a way to get out of the cage. And she “talked” to us. She would hang out in Alex’s shirt pocket. And she lived a long life, for a mouse. We (hubby and I) chose to talk openly and honestly with Alex (who is eight years old) about death. We decided to face it head-on and not run from it. We answered her questions. We buried her in the backyard next to Miley Mouse. We said a little prayer and said our last goodbyes. She cried and drew a picture on her white board saying she missed Lily. Parker (who is 3) still doesn’t understand the concept but she cried real hard too. Which made Alex cry harder. I am sure I will have to explain to Parker more than once this week about Lily.

Helping your child cope with the loss of a pet can be difficult but handled with love and care can make all the difference as they grow up.

  • One of the most heartbreaking things about losing a pet is having to tell your child. Try to do this is a quiet and comfortable place. Also do this one-on-one with your child. Try to gauge how much information your child can handle or may need about the death of your pet.
  • We’ve all heard “honesty is the best policy” and that holds true here. Kids, especially the very young, may not completely understand concept of death but they are still trying to deal with the loss of their beloved pet.
  • If you know that the pet is sick and you will need to euthanize, allow your child to say “goodbye” beforehand. Avoid using words like “he went to sleep”. This only confuses your child. It’s okay to use words like “death” and “died”. Let your child know that the vet did everything he could for your pet (which is true). Let your child ask questions and be as honest as you can. Depending on your child’s maturity level you may want to simplify the details.
  • Explain that death is a part of life. Lean on your faith for guidance. Saying the pet is in a better place or in heaven is okay. It is also okay to say you don’t know exactly what happens after death because it is the truth. Death is a mystery.
  • Don’t share graphic details of the death. The loss of a pet is traumatic enough for your child without adding gruesome details.
  • Don’t sugar coat it by saying “Fido ran away”. This doesn’t lessen the pain of losing the pet. You don’t want to be making and posting “missing” posters of a dead dog or, worse, get caught in a lie later on down the road.
  • Allow your child to cry and grieve in his/her own way.  Grieving is part of the healing process. They may want to be alone or they may want to cuddle and cry. Reassure her that it is normal to feel sad. Don’t hide your own tears. It shows kids that it is okay to feel sad.
  • Be there for your child with lots of hugs and understanding. Talking about the pet and how much it meant to them is a way of remembering their pet. Always talk about your pet in a loving manner.
  • If you bury your pet in your backyard, help your child make a grave marker. We used a large rock. You could get more crafty if your child feels up to it.
  • Don’t pretend it’s not a big deal. Don’t say things like “it was only a goldfish” or “you’ll get over it”. Your child is still hurting and missing her pet. It doesn’t matter how small the pet was, the pain is still real to them. It may have only been a goldfish to you, but to her it was a friend.
  • Don’t replace the pet right away. Nothing “replaces” a pet. But in time you can welcome another pet as part of your family.

As parents, we always want to protect our children from hurting, but how we handle this situation could help the grieving process now and in the  future. Support a healthy grieving process. Be honest and supportive. Trust your gut.

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Categories: Faith, Life everyday | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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